Portrait of the Painter Franz Pforr

Portrait of the Painter Franz Pforr

by Michael
(London, UK)

This is an article about this painting, Portrait of the Painter Franz Pforr. The German title is Porträt des Malers Franz Pforr. I am interested in it from the standpoint of the cat, naturally!

But first a bit about the painter, Friedrich Overbeck, and the main subject, also a painter, Franz Pforr.

Friedrich Overbeck (1755-1821) was a German artist. His father and grandfather were lawyers. Friedrich Overbeck himself seems to have been raised very properly and religiously. He would appear to have been a very proper and moral person. In any event he found his training at the academy of Vienna vulgar. He turned to his religious beliefs and moved to Rome where he spent 59 years painting.

Porträt des Malers Franz Pforr


Cat in Porträt des Malers Franz Pforr

While in Rome he was joined by artists with similar views and they started a group that was given the religious name the Nazarene movement or Nazarenes. They even housed themselves in a religious building, the old Franciscan convent of San Isidoro. The group was also known as the the church-romantic painters or the German patriotic and religious painters.

No surprise then to see this kind on painting. From my point of view (a layperson) the paintings are highly polished (in terms of technical skill) but a trifle rigid and dull. The subject matter of the painting was a fellow artist who was a  member of the Nazarenes. Overbeck was apparently a mentor and therefore a senior member of the group.

Now to the cat. I must say that Overbeck was better at painting people than cats. Perhaps he had more practice on people or perhaps he didn’t spend enough time on the cat in the painting because it is not that well painted on a number of levels. And I am presuming that a good likeness was intended. Overbeck was into “precision” and hard outlines.

There would seem to be a degree of poetic license in the painting of this cat. The cat is slightly anthropomorphic. The legs are too thin, too straight and the feet (paws) too small. The markings are so unusual as to be almost impossible. The tip of the tail looks too narrow as well. As there are signs on the forehead of the agouti gene (causing the tabby coat markings), the cat would appear to be a tabby and white but the tabby bit is too well delineated and it follows the exact same line around the head and down the body. Obviously there was no concept of purebred cats in those days. Cats were simply cats but they were domestic cats. The year was 1810, the year that Overbeck came to Rome.

Cats do look a bit like this cat but rarely. And my guess is he got it wrong and employed a bit of imagination to finish it. After all the cat was not going to hold that position for long and there were no hand cameras in those days. The first photo was taken in 1826 by Niépce so cameras were rare and not hand held because of long exposure times.

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Portrait of the Painter Franz Pforr

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Oct 20, 2009 We learn a lot from those cats
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

Yes, symbols are to be expected from a group of church-romantic painters. Although it’s painted in a 19th century technique, the composition and rigidness points back to medieval church art.
Hey, I’d never have thought I could learn about art from visiting a cat page… 😉

Oct 20, 2009 Great Point
by: Michae

Hey Finn, that is a very sharp point you made about the cat’s head looking like a skull. There seems to be a lot of symbolism in this painting, which, I suppose is to be expected. Thanks Finn.

Oct 20, 2009 Symbols?
by: Finn Frode, Denmark

I think much of what we see in this picture is meant as symbols. The chained bird could be the artist himself longing for another life. Maybe it’s the young woman who is keeping him here?

As Michael has pointed out on the page about ‘Anthropomorphism’ the cat is painted slightly human. Actually to me from the first time I saw this painting the cats’s head has resembled a human skull. In old paintings skulls are usually symbols of death and to remind us of how temporary life is.

Aug 26, 2009 Chained bird
by: Michael (PoC Admin)

I couldn’t agree more. The chained bird is horrible. In those days it was considered normal. Perhaps the same mentality that allowed this is also behind the “Porcelain Cat”. Yet we still, in 2009, chain animals; monkeys, dogs and birds to name three. Monkeys chained all their life become mentally ill. It is all so shocking. A visitor to the site works for a charity to help chained dogs. She is in the USA! See Director Unchain Cumberland County

To the comment before last: LOL

Aug 26, 2009 Poor bird
by: Ruth

The chained bird made me sad too. The number of animals, birds and fish trapped or abused by people since time began is heartbreaking.

They are not born for our convenience or amusement, they are free spirits and should be treated with respect.

Aug 26, 2009 A strange cat
by: Anonymous

If he’d carried on with the tabby it would have looked better, as it is the poor cat looks as though it’s been shaved at the front and it almost has human toes instead of cat’s toes. But anyway It looks quite comfortable sitting next to the chap in the painting and mum’s there in the background for when it’s time to open a tin of Kit-e-Kat. I feel a bit sorry for the chained bird.

Aug 26, 2009 quite right !
by: Ruth

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there !!

Aug 26, 2009 Hi Ruth
by: Anonymous

That’s another good idea you have. Overbeck was religious and in those days there was a greater tendency for religious people particularly to view animals as lesser creatures (many people still do incorrectly). After all this was pre-Darwin and the theory of evolution. To paint the cat as soulless and as an ornament might square up with his religious beliefs.

Aug 26, 2009 ps
by: Ruth

I should have maybe said that he put no soul into the painting of the cat.Some people don’t think cats have souls do they ? We cat lovers know better than that don’t we!

Aug 26, 2009 Real cat
by: Ruth

No I don’t think the cat was really an ornament,I think he’s just painted it as an ornament as he has put no life into it has he ? Makes me wonder if he didn’t really like cats ? It’s so intriguing, I’ll pass it on to fellow cat lovers and hopefully we’ll get some more thoughts.

Aug 26, 2009 Hi Ruth
by: Michael (PoC Admin)

Thanks for this. Now I look at this cat again, you’re right. The cat does look like an ornament. Maybe it was an ornament!! (egg on face….)

Actually I think it was a real cat but the reason why it looks like an ornament is because there is no fur. Which leads me back to what you said…it’s an ornament! Or is it?

PS. I actually think it is too alive looking to be an ornament, which is something that Friedrich Overbeck got right. The cat does look like he or she is looking at something. Perhaps Overbeck’s equipment chucked all over the floor.

Aug 26, 2009 Interesting
by: Ruth

What a very interesting article ! I think the painter wasn’t a ‘cat person’ as he has painted the cat like an ornament. As you say, the proportions and the markings are wrong.
I really enjoyed reading this, thank you so much.

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